If you’ve ever looked into the Disney College Program, you are probably aware that the internship is offered on both coasts. Aside from the obvious, like the more expensive fees in California (due to the higher cost of living there) and the fact that Walt Disney World is a much larger resort, what differences make or break the program on each coast? To find out, I spoke with a number of Disney College Program alumni who have actually completed both the Disneyland program and the Walt Disney World program.
What made you want to do the Disney College Program?
“I originally did the program (in Florida August 2015-January 2016) because I needed to do an internship for school and I wanted to experience life outside of Toledo, Ohio.” – Alexis from Toledo, OH
“My friend mentioned the program to me, because she knew I was a huge Disney fan. I loved that thought of working for the park, so I wanted to try it out!” – Ariel from Salem, OR
“What made me want to do the college program is first, my love for Disney and second to build my résumé. I went into both programs wanting to grow professionally and get a full time position with the company.” – Lisa from Wilsonville, OR
“I remember it was the year before high school started for me, and we were hanging out at Disney’s California Adventure, and I needed to ask a cast member something so I went and asked this girl wearing huge Mickey gloves. Then we started talking about how you get a job at Disney and it was then that she brought up the Disney College Program and I just remember being amazed at the idea of it all. From then on out I had nothing but plans to do the Disney College Program once I graduated.” – Kennady from Sacramento, CA
“I’ve always wanted to work for The Walt Disney Company. I also wanted to see how things were run at the parks.” – Oto from Pearl City, HI
“When I was ten years old, I wanted to grow up and start a “Disney University” so I Googled it to make sure I was the only one who had ever had that idea. That’s when I heard about the Disney College Program and decided that I had to do it! I have always dreamed of working for Disney and this was my in.” – Erika from Mesa, AZ
There isn’t nearly as much information out there about the Disneyland program. What is something you wish you were told before your program started?
“There are many, many things I wish I had been told before doing the Disneyland Program. I worked Food and Beverage there and I was only being scheduled 28 hours a week while being considered “full-time”. It was so hard paying rent and trying to make ends meet during weeks that I only worked 28 hours. Honestly, that was really only my location so I just wish I would have been able to save more money before I went over.” – Alexis from Toledo, OH
“I wish people would just promote Disneyland more! There are a lot more cool behind the scenes events, and because there are less participants you get to know everyone really well. It’s like one big family.” – Ariel from Salem, OR
“I kind of liked it all being a surprise for me, so I’ll try not to spoil much. However for some advice I would say if you really want to participate in the special events offered by the program, make sure that you sign up for them on the day they come out. Usually you’ll get a text informing you of the time sign ups start so make sure that you are hovering over a computer at least 10 minutes before hand so that you can sign up for it as soon as possible.” Kennady from Sacramento, CA
“There was not much that I didn’t know before going into the program, however I do wish I even knew the program existed earlier on in college. There wasn’t much advertising at the time in my area.” – Oto from Pearl City, HI
“I wish I would have known how different it would be from my program in Walt Disney World. I have the same role as I did in Florida, but I am only getting the absolute minimum amount of hours (28 a week) and I was forced to join the union. I get paid far less here and the rent is a LOT more expensive. I wish I would have known that ahead of time so that I could have saved up some more money before I came. I am very grateful to have a car here, though. The buses are public, not cast member exclusive, so some pretty sketchy people are on there and they run inconsistently.” – Erika from Mesa, AZ
“The Disneyland program isn’t as well advertised as Disney World but I personally am happy it’s not. I think it’s 100% better in most ways. Overall housing in Disneyland is amazing, the apartments are huge, well furnished, the beds are actually comfortable, and the bathrooms have plenty of storage! The program is significantly smaller than Walt Disney World, which helps get you more one on one time with meet and greets, and chances to go to all the college program events.” – Sheena from Tucson, AZ
Which Disney College Program housing did you prefer?
“As far as apartments go, Carnegie Plaza at Disneyland was a way nicer complex and set up than Patterson Court where I stayed during my time at Disney World. I paid $150 a week for a 2 bedroom apartment that was way smaller than Patterson Court and there were 5 of us in a 2-bedroom so that was a hard adjustment.” – Alexis from Toledo, OH
“Disneyland. While it does cost a little more, it’s very worth it! It was clean and looked like a hotel suite, and where I lived in Walt Disney World was awful. Everything kept breaking or getting bugs, and maintenance took forever.” – Ariel from Salem, OR
“In Florida I lived in Chatham Square and in California, Carnegie Plaza. There are big differences between the two, but I really loved California, I just happened to live next door to the program’s office and found myself in there daily, for talks, movies, random things and sometimes just to see what was in their fridge!” – Lisa from Wilsonville, OR
“I loved Carnegie Plaza through the Disneyland Resort program. I loved it because it was located in such a nice area that let you do lots of things locally- and it also provided me with such a great view of the fireworks and the Matterhorn from my apartment window!” – Kennady from Sacramento, CA
“I preferred my housing in Carnegie Plaza in my Disneyland program. The housing was newer, nicer, and bigger than my housing in Vista Way in Florida. Although Vista did have pools, tennis courts & volleyball area, I hated going through the security check on my way in. Carnegie makes you feel like you are really living independently.” – Oto from Pearl City, HI
“I have lived in Vista Way and Patterson Court in Walt Disney World and now I live in Carnegie Plaza at Disneyland. Overall, I think I actually liked my Vista Way apartment the best. It was close to lots of restaurants, the freeways, and Disney Springs. However, my Patterson apartment was HUGE and there was plenty of room for the five of us who lived there. The only downside was that there was no bus stop there so if it was ever raining, that “short walk down the street” really became a problem. My apartment in Carnegie is really nice too, a little cramped, but just big enough for the five of us. And I love having all of my friends in one building and one floor. Makes seeing them really easy!” – Erika from Mesa, AZ
What do you think the biggest difference is between the two programs?
“The biggest difference by far is most definitely the College Program staff. During my time at World, I never really got the chance to meet anyone who ran the College Program because of how big the program was. Since there were only about 400 of us at Disneyland, we got to know all of the Cast Members in charge on a first name basis. Size definitely is the biggest difference.” – Alexis from Toledo, OH
“Definitely the size, and as a result, the events. Disneyland had a lot more behind the scenes tours and events because there were less people, whereas Walt Disney World couldn’t do as many simply because of the massive amount of participants.” – Ariel from Salem OR
“The biggest difference between the two programs is really the size. Because Disneyland is a smaller park, there are less college program participants that they accept.” – Oto from Pearl City, HI
“I’m still currently on my Disneyland program, but one of the biggest differences I have noticed is that Walt Disney World seems to be more cast oriented and Disneyland is more guest oriented. So far at Disneyland, I have had some problems getting my records transferred over, costumes ordered, ID printed, getting into the park, being trained at work, and getting enough hours. Meanwhile, at WDW, it was always “SafeD begins with me,” “Take care of yourself first,” “Have fun at work! If you’re having fun, the guests will too” and they had all sorts of cast parties for us. It’s kind of shocking how differently I am treated here.” Erika from Mesa AZ
“There isn’t as many opportunities to advance quickly at Disneyland, it being the smaller park, but it’s easier to be known there. At Walt Disney World I moved up fast and could have kept moving up if I stayed in Orlando, but I didn’t want to be that far away from home at that time.” – Sheena from Tucson, AZ
Which program did you prefer overall?
“This has always been a tough question. From a professional standpoint, I prefer the Disneyland Program better. There were more opportunities to network there with Executives. I even ran into Bob Iger! However, I personally had more fun at Disney World.” – Alexis from Toledo, OH
“It’s hard to say, but probably Disneyland. I did it first, it’s my childhood park so I’m a tad biased, and the program overall is better put together there, in my opinion. Plus I met my husband there!” – Ariel from Salem, OR
“I really enjoyed Florida! The regular cast accepted me as soon as I got there, I had made friends with the leads and management and was asked to stay after my program ended, but finishing school is always important. California the regular cast members were harder to get along with- they just figured we were there for a short time and there is going to be a new group of us six months later so why bother. I eventually earned their respect however, and it was hard to leave at the end of my program.” – Lisa from Wilsonville, OR
“Overall, I preferred the Disneyland program. Since the program was a lot smaller, I felt that we were able to do way more events and I got to know more people since we all lived in the same building. It also felt more personable since the program’s office staff also got to know us rather than us being just another participant. Being in Disneyland as well, we got to do many things of historical significance to Disney such as touring Walt’s apartment or going to the actual Disney studios.” – Oto from Pearl City, HI
“I go back and forth on this every day. Lately, I’ve been favoring my two programs in Florida. But they really are just VERY different. I enjoy having “seniority” in Disneyland to help me with scheduling, but I do miss how fun Walt Disney World was. It’s very serious business here in Disneyland and it’s kind of a damper sometimes.” – Erika from Mesa, AZ
How did you end up doing the Disney College Program on both coasts?
“I did the Disney World Program mainly so I could get credit for school and to live in Florida. I hadn’t ever been to any Disney park prior to the program so that was a key factor as well. I applied and interviewed for the Disneyland Program before I had even started at Disney World. I really only did that so that I could experience California since I had never been further west of Chicago before going there.” – Alexis from Toledo, OH
“I applied for Disneyland the first time because I live in Oregon, so it was closer and easier to do. After I got married, both of us wanted to do another program and neither of us had been to Walt Disney World, so we decided to apply again since they have married housing. (Disneyland does not have married housing for Disney College Program participants). – Ariel from Salem, OR
“I loved my Disneyland program so much that I wanted to do it again but this time in Walt Disney World. I had never been to Disney World before, so I figured doing the program would be the perfect time to explore all of those parks since it is so huge, rather than later on going on vacation there and not knowing what to do in such little time.” – Oto from Pearl City, HI
How do you think you benefited from doing both programs?
“I think the main benefits of doing both programs were that I got to experience both coasts, I was able to see the way the company evolved from Disneyland to Disney World, and I really was just able to get a better idea of what I really wanted to do with my career.” Alexis from Toledo, OH
“Definitely being able to tell other people the differences, for one. Many people don’t even consider the Disneyland College Program, which is sad. Both programs have their pros and cons and should be compared! I also feel they have opposite cultures, as far as both the guests and cast members. They just feel different.” – Ariel from Salem, OR
“Some of the benefits of the two programs are the friendships you make. I still talk to my roommates from both programs! I also get to talk about working at both parks at my job [at the Disney Store], I get to share Disney stories with the guests I meet and also help guests plan first time visits. When you work for a company like Disney you can’t help but feel proud when you make those magical moments and really help create those fairytale stories and bring them to life.” – Lisa from Wilsonville, OR
“I now know what both programs are like, and they both have given me a huge amount of experience that has helped me even now in the work place.” – Kennady from Sacramento, CA
“Doing both programs I got to see the differences in the parks and how they are run, and in the guests and how that affects the parks. For example, Disneyland has more local guests where as Walt Disney World has more guests that visit for their very first time. I’m also a pin trader, and there were some pins that I had no idea what they were until I started working in Florida. After that, they made so much sense!” – Oto from Pearl City, HI
“Doing both programs definitely gave me more of an appreciation of the Disney company and parks. I can compare/contrast and help people pick a program they’d love.” – Sheena from Tucson, AZ
Were your experiences with College Program transportation better or worse during a certain program?
“I had a car for both programs so transportation wasn’t too difficult in either place.” – Alexis from Toledo, OH
“I preferred Disneyland, but both were okay. In Disneyland you get a free bus pass for Anaheim’s bus system, and it’s mostly reliable for being on time. In Walt Disney World, the buses were fine, but were often behind schedule or would break down causing you to be late.” – Ariel from Salem, OR
“In Florida I opted to use the Transtar bus program. I never had an issue with being late, and the only time where traffic was an issue, this girl rolled down her window at the bus stop and said ‘Hey you, girl in the Dinoland print pants, hop in!’ She was wearing the exact outfit and there was another person in the car so I thought SURE! Why not! It was actually a fun car ride. California I took my car, which was great, until my air conditioner went out!” – Lisa from Wilsonville, OR
“The transportation was much better in the Walt Disney World program simply because they offered it. In Anaheim I did have my own car but for those who did not, they had to take public transportation. However, housing is much closer to the park than it is in Orlando. So the bus rides were not that long and many often walked to work. In Orlando, I didn’t have my car so I relied on the program’s transportation, and I really like how organized it was and all the places it took us.” – Oto from Pearl City, HI
“I know a lot of people have a hard time with the Transtar buses in Florida, but I actually never had a problem with them. They ran fairly consistently and went everywhere I ever needed to go. I don’t feel like I missed out on anything! But it is very nice having my own car here in California. I would be missing out on a lot if I hadn’t have brought one.” – Erika from Mesa, AZ
“I was fortunate enough to bring my vehicle with me which is a huge help in Disneyland, transportation isn’t provided and I wouldn’t want to take public transportation after a late night at work. Walt Disney World transportation was awesome, they always had buses running, made it very easy to get around.” – Sheena from Tucson, AZ
What was your favorite part of the Disney College Program?
“My favorite part overall was most definitely meeting and becoming such good friends with people all over the world. Everyone was coming from the same things (missing home) and it made it so much easier to bond and get close.” – Alexis from Toledo, OH
“Just being able to be a part of the magic everyday! Not only when working, even as a guest. Being able to take a quick bus ride on my day off and just spend time in the park was so rewarding and I truly miss it!” – Ariel from Salem, OR
“My favorite experience from the Disney College Program was in California– My all time dream job would be to work for Disney’s Fairytale Weddings, I was talking to my manager about the wedding team and how I would love to meet them. He informed me that one of his friends was a manager of that department and he set up a meeting where I was able to talk with her and learn about what she does and what her average day is like. I was beyond thrilled to have this opportunity. When I first met Traci it was an instant friendship. After a few hours of talking we left with Facebook friend requests accepted and my wedding all planned out! I even had my own Fairytale wedding October 2015 with Traci as my planner!” – Lisa from Wilsonville, OR
“It was just all so magical. I got to work at a place with people who are in love with Disney like me. There were some amazing perks with the jobs! I made so many new friendships that I made that I know will last a lifetime. I think job-wise my favorite part was making magical moments. Being a regular guest magical moments have become huge memories that we have of our vacation. As a cast member I got to make those memories for other families- We all need a little magic in our lives and I got to create it!” – Kennady from Sacramento, CA
“My favorite thing about doing Disney College Program was simply getting to enjoy the parks whenever I wanted for free and also seeing everything backstage. For a lot of people, seeing things backstage ruins the magic for them but for me it makes the magic. I loved seeing characters backstage, people fixing rides, all the shortcuts, etc.” – Oto from Pearl City, HI
“My favorite thing on both coasts, is the networking opportunities. They take good care of us interns and make sure to introduce us to executives and other leaders who can really get us where we want to go. Disney is a company of possibilities and I love that. I love this program because it’s a chance to live a fun, Disney life, make great life-long friends, and really work on building a career within a company that believes in making dreams come true. What other company has a mission statement saying “We create happiness”? I enjoy creating happiness and magic, which is why Disney is the perfect place for me.” – Erika from Mesa, AZ
“The Disney College Program taught me so many things! Self-reliance, a greater appreciation in the friends and family I have, and knowing that I could make this Disney life permeate one day! Some of my favorite things were going on backstage tours, meeting managers and their teams (learning about their path to success), and meeting some of the best people I’ll be friends with for a lifetime!” – Sheena from Tucson, AZ
About the Authors
Alexis (Toledo, OH) worked in quick service food and beverage at the Electric Umbrella in Epcot, and at Pacific Wharf at Disney’s California Adventure. During her programs, she was enrolled in online classes at Michigan State University as a Hotel and Restaurant Management major. She is currently taking a semester off while she is in the process of transferring to a new school in Florida for the spring semester.
Ariel (Salem, OR) worked in quick service food and beverage during her Disneyland program, and merchandise during her Walt Disney World program. She attended Chemeketa Community College in Salem, OR, where she majored in Computer Information Systems. Ariel is currently working for Salem Hospital as a Service Desk Associate.
Lisa (Wilsonvile, OR) did her first program in Dinoland merchandise at Walt Disney World. While pursuing a degree in Fashion Marketing from the Art Institute of Portland, she participated in the Disneyland program where she worked in Tomorrowland merchandise.
Kennady (Sacramento, CA) has already earned her ears through completing the Disney College Program on both costs and is currently finishing up her work towards a degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management. She plans to study abroad in England within the next year.
Oto (Pearl City, HI) worked in merchandise at the World of Disney Store during her Disneyland Program, and in attractions at Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure during her Walt Disney World Program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Media from the University of Hawaii, and currently works as a photographer at the Dole Plantation, and as a PhotoPass photographer at Disney’s Aulani Resort.
Erika (Mesa, AZ) attended college at Mesa Community College in Mesa, AZ, and Brigham Young University in Provo, UT, where she is majoring in Recreation Management. As an intern during the college program, she worked in custodial at Pop Century Resort, and in parking in Epcot. She is currently participating in the program at the Disneyland Resort, where she works in resort transportation and parking. After her program, she plans on staying in California, finishing her degree and eventually working her way onto the Disney Special Events team.